Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are Electronic Prescription Systems Failing to Trap Errors?

A Brief Introduction

Before I jump into the topic of electronic prescription systems, I want to make known how I came across the article I am about to post. I am creating a website that includes a substantial portion of the human factors related work I have produced over the years. That website also includes posting articles on the home page related specifically to human factors - and that includes article related to medical errors: a topic of interest to me.

The new human factors website is not yet ready for viewing. I have just created a usable home page. The bulk of the work is to come. I'll post the address when it's reached a usable state.

What's Going on with Electronic Prescription Systems?

Bloomberg news recently reported the results of a study that indicated that prescription errors are as frequent whether handwritten or written through an electronic prescription system. Here is the address of the Bloomberg article:

I have not yet had the opportunity to read the study. However, I shall and I'll continue to update this blog on this topic based on what I find. 

With respect to the Bloomberg article, this quote caught my eye:

"The most common error was the omission of key information, such as the dose of medicine and how long or how many times a day it should be taken, the researchers said. Other issues included improper abbreviations, conflicting information about how or when to take the drug and clinical errors in the choice or use of the treatment, the researchers said."

I have been a human factors professional for a long time and as I read the quote above my jaw dropped. The errors described in the quote are some of the most fundamental and easily trappable and correctable errors. It seems beyond belief that an electronic prescription system would allow a user to make such errors. In the environments where I have worked, I have designed and installed subsystems to insure that users do not make the kinds of errors as described in the Bloomberg article. When I have a chance to read the report, I'll cover specific errors, their detection and correction. And means to insure that patients are not harmed.

Here's a link to another publication that reported on the same study:

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